Monday, April 19, 2010

On Joy

What better time for a blog post than with scant hours remaining before a final exam?  My brain is so saturated with Bioprocess Engineering that every additional page of notes I bring in front of my face causes my eyes to glaze over and my brain to subside into thought fragments that are neither coherent nor relevant to the subject at hand, the static white noise of the mental sphere.  So, trusting that my brain likely knows enough to be able to pass the exam, I have come here to ramble a bit about things I've been thinking about.

It turns out that I want to talk about joy.  Joy is probably the farthest thing from any student's mind directly before finals.  The world of a student consists of Studying Diligently and Sleep Deprivation and Stressful Agonizing Hours during exam period.  And yet, as my pastor pointed out yesterday, the Bible has the audacity to say "Be joyful always" with the always meaning... well, always.

Now, I consider myself to have a very cheerful disposition by default.  Even on Friday when my software crashed at work and I lost an hour's worth of laborious AutoCAD drawing, I sighed for a moment, but resolved to save more next time and thought cheerily about how much faster I'd be able to draw it now that I had perfected the process for that portion of the drawing.  However, one thing that has the uncanny ability to bypass all of my innate cheerfulness is being sick.  All it takes is a little virus to reduce me to an inconsolable puddle of self-pity, cut off from the outside world and my entire universe reduced to myself, my pile of blankets, and my box of kleenex.  A former roommate once commented that I was the most miserable sick-person she'd ever met.  When I get sick, I shut down completely.  I don't go out, I don't think, I sometimes remember to make meals, but that's about all.  So imagine my horror when I started to feel the onset of sickness on Friday, right when I needed to be studying for exams.

So not only am I sick and have to force myself to study throughout being sick, but now I have to be joyful too?  That just seems unnatural.  Weird.  Who does that?  And yet, obviously this is something I need to learn to do, as I have set myself on this journey of seeking out the heart of God.  Joy is something that I struggle with understanding.  It seems to be fundamentally different from happiness, since happiness is an emotion and the experience of it usually involuntary.  A command to be joyful, that implies volition.  That implies that the choices I make have a direct effect on my level of joy.  So how do I choose to be joyful?  How do I know whether I'm joyful or not?  What are the indicators of a life that is firmly rooted in joy every moment of every day?

I think perhaps I understand it better by coming at it from the opposite side.  What robs me of my joy?  When I am sick, how do I choose to let go of my joy?  Perhaps joy is related to focus, such that when my focus remains on how miserable I am, my misery consumes me and consumes the joy in my life.  But when my focus is on God, somehow despite the very real current of misery rushing around me, joy remains the anchor that holds me in place and keeps me from being carried down into greater unhappiness.

Even after chasing these rabbit-trails of thoughts around in my head, I still don't feel like I understand joy any better.  It remains mysterious but one day... one day I will catch it and pounce on it and declare to the world "THIS!  This is joy!"  Until that day, I will keep chasing it.  Practically, at this moment, that means that despite the scratchiness in my throat and the sniffles and the exam (t-45 mins now), I will declare that God is good to me, that no matter how I do on this exam, I will pass the course, that even when I feel miserable God is working all things out for my good and that I am abundantly and extravagantly blessed.  I want to choose joy, whatever that may be, and however that looks.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Post-Easter Baking

Yes, Easter has come and gone, but the whole weekend was so busy (notable events included JazzyBunny coming to visit from Ontario....awesome times with her!) that I didn't get to do a single bit of Easter baking.  Then I took off for California to go to a conference which is a whole other story in itself.  But, back to the baking.  So this story actually begins last year when my friend ifihadaboat introduced me to the time-honoured Mennonite tradition of making Paska at Easter.  What is Paska, you ask?  It is a light citrus bread made at Easter that is eaten voraciously by any in sight as soon as it comes out of the oven, usually slathered in icing.  My inaugural Paska experience was all sorts of delicious, and the two of us were quite pleased with ourselves for producing such an authentically scrumptious Paska.  This year, I was determined to repeat the experience even though my dear Mennonite partner-in-crime is now residing in the Northwest Territories and couldn't just pop over to help me make it.

The most difficult part of this recipe is that it requires a whole blended orange and lemon, and I have no blender.  But luckily, it was my awesome brother and sister-in-law Shalyn who came to my rescue and volunteered their Magic Bullet for this endeavour!  They even provided me with a container to bring home my orange-lemon sludge once I had sufficiently pureed it.  Now that is what family is for, I tell ya.  Always there for you in your hour of most dire procrastinatory-baking need.

Behold, here is my Paska dough, ready to enter the fiery furnace!  I stole the idea of adding embellishments to the top from a Ukrainian Paska website.

And here is the finished product, right out of the oven and ready for noms!  Those Mennonites would be proud.  Incidentally, this recipe is huuuge.  I had another whole loaf besides this one.  Good thing there were lots of people to help eat this up!

Next week is exams.  Bleh.  But the Langley Knit Night Secret Grinch Swap is coming up, which will be my one scheduled break before exams (no more baking, I swear!), and well worth waiting for.  I can't wait for the unveiling of the secret knitted items  =D  Stay tuned!